The entrance to the Ayadina restaurant could not be more inviting – or more joyful; a beautiful combination of blue and pink decorated doors in the heart of Cairo's Heliopolis lead into a remarkably well-visited restaurant where the blue and pink theme is firmly in charge.
Despite the large audience, the restaurant does not have a loud, over-crowded clamor. “It must be the relatively high ceiling or the interior designer’s clever tricks,” I remarked.
Seated in the non-smoking (neither cigarettes nor shisha) section, we are immediately met with a short documentary that is displayed on the plasma screen next to us, reminding the visitors of Ayadina of how the Lebanese managed to survive the atrocious civil war with considerable courage through a dedicated attempt to enjoy life, food, drink and dance.
“I think that this is one aspect that needs to be thoroughly studied from an anthropological point of view about the civil war in Lebanon; this thing about the Lebanese people – or maybe about the Mediterranean people in general,” said my friend Ella.
As the smiling waiter was placing the delightful blue and pink table mats and the welcoming warmly baked bread and fresh olives, Ella was looking in her bag for the book that she incidentally had on her: “Guernica-Beirut: life and art between Picasso’s mural painting and an Arab capital in war.”
“You know Fawwaz Traboulsi, the Lebanese writer and commentator. He is the author, I think. Yes, this is the second edition issued in 2011,” Ella said.
She placed the book with its grey cover on the table to join in the welcoming of small dishes and to consider the menu.
Looking through the menu in a relatively dimly lit restaurant, I was thinking that whoever designed the menu knew what he was doing – It is done in such an easy to read way, not to mention the obvious: inviting hungry people to over-order.
“You can order all you want and you can always have the leftovers to go; we pack them well,” the waiter said as she noticed our perplexity and clearly our appetite that had allowed us to devour through every bite of the welcoming items that were offered.
We decided to order a variety of vegetarian dishes, essentially – or that was the initial plan: Manaish Zaatar, Taboula with pomegranate, Fattoush and Falafel.
As we sipped through our lemonades, Ella was telling me about the book that she was about to finish and I was about to borrow.
“It is essentially about this mural-sized oil painting that Pablo Picasso did in the 1930s about the war that was jointly waged by Franco, the dictator of Spain, and the Nazis on the Spanish village Guernica.”
I don’t think that Fawaz Traboulssi was really drawing a comparison between the civil war of Spain and the civil war of Lebanon in a direct sense – although towards the end of the book there are pictures contrasting parts of Picasso’s mural with pictures taken from Sabra and Shatila – another crime that was committed some 30 years later,” Ella said.
She added that the book was more about how art manages to capture the heart of pain and misery that comes with a devastating war, which turns people helpless and defenseless.
‘Defenseless’ was precisely how we both felt when the dishes we ordered were put to our table and certainly to our hungry eyes, hands, and stomachs.
I was thinking the food was very good; I was thinking that the portions are generous and the variety is good enough to have allowed a crowd, including those who do the pre-Christmas fast, to enjoy a warm, delicious and inviting meal.
But we both realised that we had committed the classic mistake of ordering when feeling very hungry. And we knew there was no way any two people, no matter the healthy appetite, could finish even half of the food that we had ordered.
It was decided that since we are going to have the to-go bags, it was alright to order a few more items – to try them out: mini-shawerma sandwiches, hummus, shish tawook and chicken liver with pomegranate were added to our order.
While allowing the waiter to remove the first round of the order to have the food packed for take-out, Ella was telling me about the "loaded meanings" that Traboulssi writes about in his book.
“In a sense, he is documenting the war, capturing images that he saw or heard of. But he is also, I think, documenting the dominating social disparities that make women and the poor very vulnerable – more vulnerable than anyone else – and the political corruption that allows for aggression to take a high toll on the lives of the people with considerable impunity for the military men who commit the atrocities against the civilians, in Guernica or Beirut,” she said.
As we discussed possible Arab comparisons to Franco and Hitler throughout the years of contemporary Arab history, the second batch of our order was finding its way to our table by a smiling waiter.
As I looked through the table of contents of the close to 300-page book, Ella made the order for our third round: the unavoidable dessert of Ayadina Kounafa and tea with mint.
“This is good quality Lebanese food and it is served almost with the same level of hospitality that one would find in a Beirut restaurant,” Ella noticed.
As the check, which was on the expensive side, was paid and the nice to-go white, blue, and pink (not brown) bags were put to our table, we had already passed close to three delightful hours.
The waiter said there are two more brancehes in City Stars, in Nasr City and Galleria mall in the satellite city of 6th of October. "We don't have delivery but you can call or pass by, place your order and we can prepare it for take out."
Two people could pay anything from LE 200 to 1000 depending on what and how much they order.
Address: Cleopatra Street, parallel to Baghdad Street at the heart of Qurba, Helioplis
Book title: Guernica-Beirut: life and art between Picasso’s mural painting and an Arab capital in war
El Karma publishing house
2011 second edition, 1987 first edition